Saturday, December 29, 2007

A belated Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you got all you wanted. I was blessed with food poisoning, myself, from some bad shellfish from a Chinese buffet, I believe. Fun times. Gradually recovering, but expect to develop a close relationship with soup over the next few days (a step above projectile-spewing clear liquids within ten minutes of consumption).

A brief note on my own self-centeredness: I drug myself out of bed, tried to watch some TV, and saw the news about Bhutto being assassinated. My reaction was disappointment that I was too sick to stay out of bed, and wouldn't be able to follow the news live. Why does everything happen to me? (I was up long enough to be disgusted that the news channels seemed to have a hard time deciding if a political assassination should cut away from there round-the-clock coverage of the tiger mauling, though)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

When I was in high school, a junior, if memory serves, I was watching T.V. one evening, when I flipped by Bravo and stopped to watch a bit of a musical they were showing. That musical was Sweeney Todd, and while I'd missed most of the first half, I very quickly found myself fixated on this show, which was not quite like anything I'd ever seen before. They reran it later that day, in the dark of night, and I taped it, so that I could ultimately watch it more than I have probably watched just about anything else. It was a filmed performance of the Broadway show, with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, which apparently originally aired on PBS in 1982. I suppose what first grabbed me about the musical was the macabre subject matter and pitch-black take on human nature (well, okay, what FIRST got my attention was Lansbury--"So, just WHAT is the Murder, She Wrote lady putting into that pie?!"). And the music was absolutely fantastic, with an operatic scope, alternating between the beautiful and the visceral, and really put to shame the Broadway smashes with which I was more familiar (I used to love Les Miserables; the last time I listened to it, I was embarrassed for us both). And Sondheim's wit provided just enough of a safe space to keep the show from crushing me.

There was a lot artistically in Sweeney Todd to appeal to me. But I think my obsession with the show was also because I came to think of it as mine. I think sometimes an individual comes across a cultural artifact, so different from the media with which they are familiar, that they virtually fetishize the product, develop an obsession with it, as I did, partly due to its merits, and partly just to celebrate the serendipity by which this item was discovered, and one's horizons were widened (hope that's not too pretentious; I'm not quite sure how to say what I mean here). I'd stumbled upon it unawares, I'd never heard of it (I'd only barely heard of Sondheim), and my friends had never heard of it. And now I wanted it to become a fixture in my life. For close to two years, I watched it virtually daily. Not always in its entirety, but at least substantial segments--"Pretty Girls" through to "A Little Priest," say, or possibly through to Sweeney's version of "Johanna" (I would often just play that song over and over and over again). Most nights before I went to bed, that's what I watched. (It made me question my sanity--It can't be normal to watch the same thing this often, I would fret to myself) In college, the frequency diminished, but it was some time before the tradition died, and still I knew it wouldn't be long before I returned, for weeks, sometimes months, of obsessive viewing. There are other musicals (Urinetown, for instance) I love, but Sweeney Todd's special place in my psyche is, I feel it safe to say, permanent and unique.

So as you might imagine, news of a Sweeney Todd movie was difficult for me to deal with. Tim Burton presenting Sweeney Todd sounded like nothing short of perfect. But things can go wrong, and the thought of a bad Sweeney Todd movie was too much to bear. And even a good Sweeney Todd movie wouldn't be my Sweeney Todd movie. I had come to think of the Lansbury/Hearn Sweeney Todd as the definitive version, and feared change. The Broadway cast album featured Len Cariou as Sweeney, which was a great disappointment on first listen (he's grown on me, but I prefer Hearn's manic rendition better). I'd seen several stage productions, including the fantastic version hosted by the Sledgehammer Theatre, which I saw several times during its two different runs, but even as I acknowledge the talented local actor from that production is quite possibly the best Sweeney I've ever seen, seeing this and any other production only sent me back to the familiarity of my original cassette, or now the commercially-available DVD. I realize part of the point of live theater is that things can evolve and be reinterpreted, but a movie would require much more substantial changes and adaptations. Then there was the whole thing about casting Johnny Depp as Sweeney. That did nothing to diminish by unease.

So as the movie approached, I avoided media coverage of the film. I never saw the trailer, and thanks to my DVR and the writer's strike, only saw the commercial a handful of times; it confirmed that the look and feel of the film rang true, but didn't show enough to pass judgement (Depp never sang). So when I saw the reviews coming in yesterday, it all seemed rather sudden. Much like Christmas really snuck up me this year, I found myself asking myself, Is it really time for me to confront the Sweeney Todd movie? It was, and this afternoon, I did.

And I loved it. Really loved it. Despite its flaws, and yes, it is most certainly flawed. But they got so much right. Yes, it's different than the show I know by heart, but film is a different medium, different enough that I can appreciate it on its own merits. I'll never make the film a part of my life like I did the televised stage rendition, but I still imagine the movie DVD will be played a fair amount when it comes out.

Let's start with what I didn't like. They could have done better than Helena Bonham Carter. By the conclusion of "The Worst Pies in London," I was half-convinced she was going to single-handedly sink the production. She grew on me, and in retrospect I think part of the problem was that the humor of the first song might not work as well on film, requiring the exaggerated acting and audience interaction of live theater. But still, I found her a bit disappointing; she always seemed to be trying so hard when she was singing. Clearly singing is not within her comfort zone. Kudos for trying, and she makes it work, but I think they could have found someone with more musical experience, who could have moved beyond "making it work." But if there was one odd casting choice, it was for the role of Tobias. Newcomer Ed Sanders is fine, but he is a child, looking like he came straight from the cast of Oliver! Tobias is a simple-minded man-child, not an actual child. When he first emerges from Pirelli's wagon, I was in shock. But as the film goes on, and I see how they've changed the role to reflect his age, I thought it was an inspired change, highlighting the class issues that are a sub-theme of the show. But as I started thinking ahead, knowing where the story was going, I realized it wouldn't work. And it doesn't work. It doesn't work at all. I can't say why without spoiling things, so I won't. But it doesn't work.

Lots of changes involving moving, shortening, or cutting songs. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," which bookends the musical and provides narrative throughout, was cut. Probably a wise choice, mostly. I'm reluctant to discuss the ending (and by ending, I mean final seconds), but lets just say I wished they found something to replace the final reprise of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" with. The Johanna/Anthony storyline is streamlined, their songs truncated or dropped and told instead with more filmic techniques. This I whole-heartedly support; getting through their romance always felt like a chore, and giving Alan Rickman more room to expand on his evil character is a wise approach to the material. The beginning of the second act is shuffled around a bit, with a trimmed "God, that's Good" coming after "Johanna." My main complaint with the songs being trimmed was that "A Little Priest" was quite truncated. Which was probably a necessity. But instead of cutting out some of the career puns (well, they actually did that, too), they cut out the verses that highlight the economic themes and concerns with the class struggle which undergird the story. How do you cut verses like:

The history of the world, my love
Is those below serving those up above!
How gratifying for once to know
That those above will serve those down below!
or: the verse:
The history of the world, my sweet
Is who gets eaten and who gets to eat!
But fortunately it's also clear
That everybody goes down well with beer!
Good stuff. [edit: Oops, on subsequent viewing, I realized I misremembered; the first verse quoted was in the movie. Mea maxima culpa.] So I was sad that was gone. And the whole song doesn't work too well on screen, apparently because they felt that we just couldn't understand what they were talking about unless they showed a member of every profession just as it was mentioned in the song, which just made things feel awkward (and was it just me, or did the fop look more like a pimp).

Anyway, that gets my complaining pretty much taken care of (I intend to see it again Christmas day with my sister and brother-in-law, and I'm sure I'll find more nits to pick). It probably won't take up as much space to say what I like, because it doesn't take much time to say: Wonderful! The look of the film, the sets, the costumes, the cinematography, the blood, all was perfect. By the end of the opening credits, I was already highly impressed. The black-and-white world of Victorian London, sprayed with arterial blood, or the washed-out colors of Mrs. Lovett's fantasy (the existence of a Sweeney Todd movie is completely justified just on the basis of Burton's take on "By the Sea"). A soaring orchestral score, giving Sondheim's music the majesty it deserves. Sasha Baron Cohen as Pirelli, Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, and Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford are all inspired choices. And yes, even Johnny Depp as Sweeney works excellently. Within the first twenty minutes, I had forgot my misgivings, only to briefly remember them during "Epiphany" (he can't quite pull it off, but comes close enough to get by). But I'm sure, whatever is lost briefly in one song is more than made up for by the value of the Depp-Burton collaboration.

I am just so happy I enjoyed this movie. I really feared today's trip to the movies would be a soul-crushing experience. But providence is kind, and the film Sweeney Todd is just as tasty as one of Mrs. Lovett's meat pies (you know, the good ones, with the good meat in them, not the awful ones). I really can't recommend this film too much. If you don't know the story, this is a fantastic introduction, and if you do, Burton's pitch-perfect film is a great way to experience it again in a unique way. I'm sure I'll be digging up my Sweeney Todd DVD and getting reacquainted with my old friends Sweeney Todd and his old friends the razors. But before that, I can't wait to see this movie again.

Needless to say, my vote for best picture of 2007 should be quite evident, but in case it needs saying, let me give my choice now: Reno 911: Miami Sweeney Todd.

UPDATE: Added imeem's stream of the movie soundtrack. You'll probably want to wait until you've seen the movie to give it a listen, but it's nice for revisiting the film.

UPDATE #2: Okay, apparently the imeem player above will only play 30-second samples, even if you're logged in to imeem, if you try to stream it from this page. If you click on "launch standalone player," at the bottom of the page (and are logged into imeem), it will open a new window where you can listen to the whole album (as that page doesn't have ads, I don't understand the point of this obstacle to music enjoyment, but whatver, I should be grateful for a free stream of the entire album).

I hit the road last weekend, heading up to Los Angeles to see a presentation of Frankenstein (Mortal Toys) and attend the Museum of Jurassic Technology's Christmas party. I probably couldn't have worked up the strength to drive to L.A. for either event, singularly, but combined they gave my trip purpose.

Frankenstein (Mortal Toys) certainly made the trip worthwhile in and of itself. Mary Shelley's tale, adapted to the stage, then adapted to puppets, cardboard cut-outs, basically, with articulated joints, painted in the style of 18th-century American portrait painting. The puppets were simultaneously simple and expressive, and the stark sets managed to invoke the sublime despite their diminutive size. And the various frigid settings (the Arctic, Mont Blanc) made the show's performance at the Velaslavasky Panorama particularly apt. If you ever have a chance to see a performance of this remarkable show, I highly recommend you do so.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology's party was enjoyable. I always enjoy being there, it's a very peaceful place. It truly invokes the museum's early calling, to invoke the Muses. The Bulgarian folk music was entertaining, and the food was okay, and the curator's dog took a particular shining to me, for some reason (wanting my Apple turnover, I know, but others had food as well, yet I was singled out--I'm special!). I didn't stay too long, as the place was far too crowded for its size, though it is nice to see that lots of people agree with me that the museum is a special place (except for the nasty old ladies who insisted on shouting over the musician standing two paces away so they could continue their discussion of what they had for lunch). As I left the building to go home, I was stopped by two young hipsters, who seemed surprised to see anyone emerge from the storefront (from outside, the museum always appears closed), and started peppering me with variations of what seemed like a simple question, considering I had just left the establishment: What the hell is this place? But, with the exception of the question, "Are there dinosaurs?" (answer: no), I didn't quite know what to say. For a place I have come to bestow an almost holy significance, it is quite difficult to put into words just what it is. There is a very quick reply that immediately comes to mind, but to give that explanation is to once expose the central conceit of the place in a ham-fisted way, and also to narrow it's significance to this one gimmick, defining the whole by one shallow aspect of the part. Though I suppose that all sounds rather pretentious. Anyway, I encouraged them to visit the museum some time, with the promise of oddities and wonderment. And of course I encourage you to do the same, if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

UPDATE: Last time I visited the Velaslavasay Panorama, I didn't share my pictures, which didn't really turn out due to the low lighting. This time, I took some snapshots with my iPhone (did I mention that I bought an iPhone? I have an iPhone), and while the camera in the iPhone isn't the greatest, it actually does remarkably well in low light, so I went ahead and uploaded a few photos of the "Effulgence of the North", as well as one I took from the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Friday, December 21, 2007

At 9:00 PM PST, the premiere episode of Cinematic Titanic, the new project by the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000, went on sale. By 9:10, I'd placed my order (too bad they say it won't ship for at least ten days). I figure, for the years of joy they've given me, I owe them that. Having watched the trailer, I'll say I'm cautiously optimistic. I have some reservations, just because I've found Mike Nelson's post-MST3K work somewhat of a let-down (though I applaud him for keeping the spirit of the show alive). I've only seen one of his Film Crew DVDs, and it was enjoyable, being as they chose to riff on a film starring Rue McClanahan as a stripper, but the whole thing had a shooting-fish-in-the-barrel quality (long stretches of the commentary is just Mike and friends reassuring the audience that, yes, they too are horrified by what they see). But the whole Rifftrax thing (downloadable audio commentaries to big Hollywood movies, mostly) never appealed to me--it was the shlocky B-movies and the social commentary they allowed that really drew me to MST3K (especially their takes on short hygiene films; "Mr. B Natural" was a transformative experience in my life).

Anyway, just wanted to let you all know that this product exists. And hey, two members of the Cinematic Titanic crew were until recently keeping their writing chops sharp by working on America's Funniest Home Videos, so you know they're bringing the funny (does my snobbery know no bounds? No, it doesn't).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Slylock Fox has introduced a new character, Carla, Cassandra Cat's cousin. Say what you want about this strip, but Bob Weber, Jr., knows how to give his adult fans what they want (assuming they're fur fetishists, or just kinda weird).

If you're having trouble reading the solution to this little mindteaser, I'm pretty sure she picked that house because, judging from the perspective, it's a cardboard cutout of a house, and she can just walk around it (but the fact that she's using a crowbar suggests the house was perhaps built at a 90 degree angle to the street, so that the appearance of sexy cat-burglars could be enjoyed by passers-by).

UPDATE: I think I may have to add the comic strip My Cage to my daily rotation; any strip that "borrows" Cassandra Cat is just alright with me.

UPDATE #2: Okay, so apparently My Cage and Slylock Fox share a syndicate (King Features), and Cassandra Cat's appearance in My Cage is a joint effort that will continue all week; presumably, Carla is just filling in the for her absence this week, but we'll hope she remains. Apparently, according to Ed Power, writer of My Cage, My Cage characters were going to appear in Slylock Fox as well, but that aspect got nixed. Which is odd; they couldn't have looked any more out of place than the creatures in this recent police lineup.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

Earl McDonnell, inspiration for dog in Mutts, dead at 18.
Universal signs deal with imeem. imeem now has deals to stream music from all four major labels. I like imeem, especially for embedding playlists in this blog, but Wired claims only 30-second samples will be available with embedded players (and sure enough, the playlist they show only has samples); imeem wants you to go to their site and see the ads before you stream whole songs--which makes sense if rumors that imeem is paying a per-song fee and not a percentage of advertising revenue are true. However, Ars Technica's article has an embedded song which streams fine. So I'm hoping that imeem's filters just aren't letting all songs stream yet, but eventually will.

Unfortunately, it looks like imeem's main problem remains: songs are still uploaded by users, so not everything is available, and quality and accuracy isn't always assured. It would be nice if the record labels provided the sites with their catalog, but still, the ability to upload and share with others any major label song is a nice thing to have.

I'm not sure how imeem is doing signing up indie labels; I just checked some previous posts, and it looks like Lee Hazlewood's last album is now streamable, but Porter Wagoner's last album still isn't streamable.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The outpouring of emotion over the passing of Al Scaduto was quite moving. The post breaking the news to the Comics Curmudgeon community has well over 200 commenters sharing their grief (and lest you think it's just people being polite in the face of mortality, the other posts this year about the various cartoon artists passing generaed nothing even approaching this; in fact, I'd say the comments on B.C.'s Johnny Hart ran pretty heavily to the negative). I spent most of yesterday pouring over the comments (until last night's poker tournament, when it was all business), and was a bit surprised how touched I was. But I was moved to see that my experience was hardly unique; I'd never heard of the strip before Josh started including it in his daily snark. I laughed at it, but also marvelled that such an anachronistic strip still exists. Gradually, I came to appreaciate its stylish art and playful language, and also cheered on with the rest of the Comics Curmudgeon community when a CC reader got an idea in the strip. I always intended to send in an idea, but due to it's unstuck-in-time nature, I guess I felt like I had forever to come up with a petty grievence to submit; now, sadly, I see that was far from true.

One thing that was particularly interesting in the comments was that, thanks be to Google, family and friends of Al Scaduto made it to the site, to share their impressions of the by-all-accounts kind and generous man. While their grief no doubt transcends the reaction of internet hipsters, it was interesting to hear his daughter's thoughts about the internet community that latched on to his strip, giving it, to borrow from another, less good-natured site, "a bizarre, ironic cult following:"

My sister Patricia and I (Debbie) have been reading your beautiful words about my father Al Scaduto this morning. When my father was in the hospital this week, I spent some time–the first time really–looking him up on the Internet. I found a site (not this one) that seemed to love him. And when he got out of the hospital, I had planned to show it to him. But then I ran across this site and saw what was being said about him and thought I better not ever let my father know what was going on on the Internet (I am sure it will come as no suprise to anyone here that my father was NOT comfortable in the computer age and wouldn’t have known how to cruise the Internet on his own). But I have changed my mind today. I would give anything for my father to see what you have written about him today. My father was the kindest, most generous, fun-loving person I knew and you all here have honored his memory with your generosity and kindness. So many of you got it right: more than being a great cartoonist, my father was a kind man. My family thanks you. Reading your words gives us great comfort. YOU all are a class act.

Please give the comments a read if you have time, and remember a good man who had a good run and will be missed by all. There's an "American Pie" parody for you in there somewhere, and some fan art, like this (and ain't it the truth; Google News turns up one news story about his passing, and it's in Italian).

Mike Lynch has updated his post with photos and memories of the man. Scaduto's funeral home has a guest book where you can pay your respects (and which notes that he lived in Milford, CT, setting of Gil Thorp--I expect a tribute strip, guy who draws Gil Thorp!).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Al Scaduto, They'll Do It Every Time cartoonist, dead at 79. The Comics Curmudgeon commented on the news, but perhaps a more fitting tribute can be found here, with an anecdote about what a class act Scaduto was. He'll be missed, and it will be one of my disappointments in life that I never came up with an idea fitting for Scaduto to immortalize in ink.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner do "Better Move it On Home." Good stuff. Found via Digital Audio Insider.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I checked out Lemony Snickett's new holiday story, The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story from the library today. Very delightful, and highly recommended. The story at storytime at the library was about a runaway latke, so apparently Snickett's tale derives from a traditional Hanukah story.
Controversy has been swarming in the video game community since last Friday, as the news leaked out that Jeff Gerstmann had been fired by Gamespot, a video games news and review site I rely on extensively. I first heard the news from this Penny Arcade comic, and upon learning the details (Joystiq seems to be keeping this post up-to-date with the latest news on the subject), immediately lost a lot of respect for Gamespot, and deleted their bookmark, vowing not to return (though I have, to read various posts about this very scandal).

To summarize, Gerstmann gave Kane & Lynch a bad review. Said text review was reedited, the video review was removed from the site, and Gerstmann was fired shortly thereafter. Coincidentally, the Gamespot home page was inundated with ads for Kane & Lynch at the time. The rumors quickly spread that Eidos, maker of Kane & Lynch, pulled their advertising, and pressured Cnet, parent company of Gamespot, to fire Gerstmann. Whether true or not, Gamespot's reputation has taken a major blow.

I hadn't posted about this previously, since there's plenty to be read about the issue online, and I really have no way of knowing if Gamespot really succumbed to advertiser pressure to fire Gerstmann, or if he was fired for legitimate reasons. But Joystiq has now presented a comparison of the original and edited review, and as this will probably be the only objective evidence the general public will have to determine if Gerstmann's editorial freedom was compromised, it's a major discovery. Having read the article, I am now convinced that Gamespot has no journalistic integrity.

The edited review had a disclaimer: "Editor's Note: This review has been updated to include differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions and a clarification on the game's multiplayer mode." So tell me, how does changing the sentence, "So whether you're doing the shooting yourself or hanging back and letting your men do the dirty work, the game is a real letdown," to instead read, "So whether you're doing the shooting yourself or hanging back and letting your men do the dirty work, the game is a real disappointment, especially when you consider how well this same sort of stuff worked in the developer's previous squad-based game, Freedom Fighters." That to me reads more like shoehorning in praise for another of the advertiser's games than clarifying anything.

Several edits involve Gerstmann's criticism of the game for its ugliness, its gratuitous profanity, using lazy cursing for shock value and to avoid crafting gripping dialog. I had much the same reaction to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which makes me wonder if Gamespot's corporate overlords feared similar complaints might be raised against GTA: 4, which will no doubt spend a pretty penny on Gamespot advertising. I imagine Jack Thompson would have a field day, with this evidence that the gaming community will not tolerate dissent on the issue of violence or profanity, were he not too busy being disbarred.

I will say, I don't think Eidos pressured Gamespot directly to fire Gerstmann. They pulled their ads because they didn't want to advertise on a site that says the game is crap. That's reasonable enough. I believe Gamespot themselves made the decision to fire Gerstmann, to avoid future controversy. I don't know for a fact that's what happened. But reading the changes to the review, I can only conclude that their editor's note attached the the amended review was a lie, and thus I cannot believe another word they say.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

So, my friends, I mentioned here some time ago that I purchased an Xbox 360. I've been meaning to share my reflections on the system, which are overwhelmingly positive--I really thought I was wasting my money when I bought it, but I play the Xbox much more than any other gaming system I own, with only the Nintendo DS even coming close. But I've never bothered to write a review of the system or anything, because it always occurs to me that the limited time I have to devote to video games would be best spent playing video games, not prattling on about them on some unread blog.

But you'll be pleased to know I'll have lots of time to write about the Xbox 360, because I won't be playing mine; yes, if you're at all knowledgeable about the system, you've probably already guessed, but for the rest of you: this evening, I started up the system to play one last round of Guitar Hero II before bed, to discover the Red Ring of Death. Three red lights around the power button which indicates a general hardware failure. I knew about Microsoft's billion-dollar warranty extention to cover the Red Ring of Death, and intellectually I knew it was almost a certainty the console would fail at some point, but still in my heart I believed it only happend to bad people, who sold poisoned milk to schoolchildren. But now it happened to me. So I'll be without Stuntman: Ignition, Lumines Live and Guitar Hero II for the forseeable future. But hey, that just means more time for Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii (and yes, the game's just as awesome as everyone says).

My controller has never seemed to work quite right, so I'm going to get that fixed while I'm at it.

Public libraries: Last Bastions of Legalized Torture.

Friday, November 23, 2007

As a fundraiser for Child's Play, a group of masochists have started Desert Bus for Hope, agreeing to play Desert Bus in exchange for donations. They currently have to play the game for 71 hours.

For those unfamiliar, Desert Bus was part of an unreleased Penn and Teller video game, which eventually surfaced on the internet. The simulator, part of Penn and Teller's mission to create games "stupefyingly like reality," involves driving Penn and Teller's tour bus from Phoenix to Las Vegas. The bus can't go over 45 MPH, and the drive, played out in real time, is 8 hours long. The bus drifts to the right, so you can't just leave it to play on its own. Once you reach your destination, the bus turns around; complete the round trip, you get a point (Desert Bus for Hope, then, is on track to a four-point game, which I assume must be some kind of record). Sadly, it's the best part of the Penn and Teller game.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wow, I got two quote of the week runner-up nods from The Comics Curmudgeon this week. Dissing on Curtis and Family Circus. What an honor. Of course, without getting one of my ideas in Pluggers or They'll Do It Every Time, all is for naught.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A slide show essay about Charles Schulz' new biography. I don't know if I should link to something with such ignorant statements as "the treacle of A Charlie Brown Christmas allow[s] Peanuts to be remembered as something sweeter, kinder, and more lovable than it truly was." Has Brian Doherty actually seen A Charlie Brown Christmas? Seems like he makes the same mistake with the special as he the one he claims fans of "dancing Snoopy" make with the strip.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A look back at Porter Wagoner. Some nice MP3s there, and some classy album artwork, too (the article is written by the same guy who hunted down the location of Wagoner's Cold Hard Facts of Life album photo shoot, which I've linked to previously).

In addition to the recent passing of Wagoner, I somehow missed the news that Hank Thompson died. Big Rock Candy Mountain has a bit to say about the third Hank of Country's trinity, along with MP3s, while that site's companion site Barstool Mountain looks at the drinking songs of Hank Thompson.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

eMusic adds more record labels. I just renewed my annual membership with them (I'm still grandfathered in at their old rates, getting 90 songs a month, instead of the 75 I think you get now at my membership level), despite concerns that, now that indie labels have Amazon's MP3 store, labels might be leaving eMusic in greater numbers; this announcement makes me feel very good about my decision to sign on for a year. Shout Factory? Awesome!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Disneyland's It's a Small World ride to close for a ten-month upgrade in January. Why? Because Americans are too fat for the boats.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm sick. The timing sucks; why couldn't I be sick last week, when I didn't have anything to do? Went to my morning tutoring session this morning; fortunately, she was sick, too, so I could go home. Had to call in sick to the library, who got all passive-agreesive on me; you know what, if I wanted Halloween off, I would've taken it off, seeing as I am a volunteer and all. If I say I'm sick, I'm sick. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow; after last week, I can't really afford to miss more school.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Porter Wagoner, dead at 80. He apparently announced he had lung cancer about a week ago, and was in hospice, dying during the Country Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

It is nice that he managed to put out his final album, received to such high acclaim (I was quite fond of the album myself), as his was a reputation that needed some restoration. But considering the magnitude of the impact of his televison show on country music, it was more than fair that he should go out on the top of his game.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The American Masters profile on Charles Schulz airs tomorrow (check local listings). My PBS affiliate is showing it on their HD channel, which is nice.

Amazon has shipped the new biography to me, but I haven't yet received it. I don't want to comment too specifically without reading the book, but it seems strange that so much of the coverage of the biography has focused on the fact that he was unhappy, as though this was a revelation. Have the people covering the biography actually read the strip, or would they just skip the strips that didn't feature Snoopy? I actually found it more interesting, as discussed in Newsweek, that Schulz seemed to cultivate his depression, nursing imagined childhood slights. Perhaps he needed to feel like the tortured artist, as discussed in the New York Times (love the artwork that accompanies that article), or felt he needed a more tragic back story to lend gravitas to his art, in a field not generally taken seriously.

As far as Schulz's family's complaints about the biography, I would not question their perception of their own father, but I haven't heard anything substantial to cause me to question the accuracy of the biography. Schulz's son complains to Editor & Publisher that 28 pages are spent on Schulz's affair, claiming that to be excessive. 28 pages in a 650+ page book devoted to the affair that destroyed his first marriage certainly sounds reasonable to me. He also specifically claims that the author mentions Jeannie Schulz's trips without Sparky, but doesn't mention when he would travel with his wife; it seems to me a similar complaint could be directed to the family's own Charles Schulz museum, which portrays him as a creature of habit loath to travel any further than the Warm Puppy Cafe a block from his home. Again, my opinion will have more weight, I suppose, once I've actually read the book, but the portrait I'm getting from the reviews doesn't seem too terribly different from what I carried away from my trip to the museum. If anything, he's more well-rounded and human.

And kudos to the Wall Street Journal for getting Bill Waterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame to review the new biography.

Mustaches of the Ninteenth Century.
The entire run of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is now available online. I've bitched in the past about Comedy Central's website, so its nice to see that their website is reasonably well-designed and navigatable. I still have the problem I've always had with Comedy Central's website where about one video in three simply will not play; I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that this is due to the site's beta status. The site layout suggests that Craig Kilborn clips will be coming, which the New York Times confirms. Which is great; I never thought I'd see those clips again, and I miss A. Whitney Brown.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things seem to be improving today, with fire fighters finally able to get in and fight the flames, with the winds improving. Still very hot, though that's supposed to improve tomorrow. But air quality is worsening, and as the winds die down, should actually get worse, as all the smoke blown out over the ocean returns. Only one fatality so far, so at least by the most important yardstick, this isn't as bad as the Cedar fire. Acres burned will certainly exceed Cedar, but I'm not sure about homes lost.

School's canceled for the week. Library reopened today, with limited hours, so I'm about to go in for my volunteer shift. My tutoring session this morning was canceled. No word yet on if work will be closed Friday; being part of the campus, it should be closed, but we'll see.

Felt absolutely awful yesterday, barely able to function, but today I don't feel too bad. Probably because I haven't been outside; we'll see how I feel after I head down to the library (I just heard on the news it's 100 degrees in El Cajon).

Monday, October 22, 2007

I just got back from Qualcomm Stadium, where they are expecting over 100,000 evacuees tonight. Dropped off some water and food, and was happy to see lots of private and corporate citizens were making donations; Costco was bringing in huge truckloads of water. I recommend bringing your own handcart if you bring donations, as it's hard to park very close to gate P, where they're taking donations. Lugging in the water wasn't too difficult, but with the poor air quality, I really felt like crap once I'd hauled it all in (fortunately, a Marine helped me with the last few cases of water).

But yeah, the air is definitely bad. Even here in La Mesa, where the sky is still, inexplicably, blue, the air is deceptively poor. Just going out to breakfast, I found my eyes burning.

Fallbrook is under a mandatory evacuation, now, and parts of Chula Vista have a voluntary evacuation advisory. Solana Beach has been advised to prepare to evacuate. Still, very little can be done to directly fight the fire; the goal now just seems to keep the fire from reaching to the ocean. UCSD, like all schools in the county, will remain closed tomorrow, since it seems extremely inadvisable to leave your home if you don't have to.

UCSD, like many schools in the county, is closed today. The fires shifted dramatically to the west since I went to bed last night, with homes burning in Rancho Bernardo, and large regions to the west of the I-15 have been evacuated. The evacuation area north of the 56 extends all the way to I-5. Sheriff Kolender describes things as "worse than the Cedar fire." I haven't heard of any more deaths, though, which is fortunate.

The odd thing is, while there is definitely smoke here, the air quality in La Mesa isn't bad at all. Driving home from work yesterday, as I passed through Mission Valley, the sky was black to the north and west, but past there the sky suddenly turned clear blue. Things are a bit smokier today, but still fairly blue, though from my back yard I can see menacing smoke in the distance. But nothing like what I'm seeing on the news.

So, the Amazon MP3 store has been open for awhile now. I didn't mention it, because I'm getting bored with the trickle of new sources for DRM-free music, and I wasn't in the market for any music not available from my usual sources. But I did finally make a few purchases recently from Amazon, downloading the two tracks on the Pipettes' American debut that weren't on the original album I downloaded from eMusic, when it was available from them in the States, and also purchasing the new Nellie McKay album, Obligatory Villagers. If you want my opinion, the Amazon store is pretty nice, but nothing immediately game-changing. One-click shopping works fine, but I would prefer the option of a shopping cart; for instance, I would have liked to purchase the two Pipettes tracks in one transaction, and I would like to select my payment method without having to change my default settings. But the price is right, at least when it comes to albums. I think the Amazon MP3 store will be successful, but for online sales to really take off, they need to offer a complete, or nearly complete, catalog. Bring on the celestial jukebox!

As for the music itself, one could live a full and complete life without hearing the two new songs on the Pipettes album (the less said about "Dance and Boogie," the better). As for McKay's album, I've only listened to it once, so I can't pass definitive judgement. I will say, her politics can get a bit tiresome, due to her tendency to create straw men arguments to attack in her lyrics (the fact that I share her politics only makes it more aggravating). But other than that, it's a very interesting album, and musically is quite compelling, obviously influenced from her experience on stage as Polly Peachum. Like her first album, it will no doubt take me many listens to digest. But it's quite an improvement from her last album (though to be fair, I only heard the leaked version, not what was ultimately released). I recommend it (and for those unfamiliar with her, I highly recommend Get Away From Me).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

One dead in San Diego fires. It also appears that the Santa Ysabel fire has overtaken the Potrero fire, with over 3000 acres burned.
Fire consumes 2500+ acres near Potrero, 70 miles east of San Diego. I've called around town, and elsewhere there's no sign of smoke, but apparently the Santa Ana winds are funneling the smoke right to La Jolla. The air quality is reminiscent of the Cedar fire of 2003, though not nearly as bad--soot doesn't seem to be making the 70 mile trek, so it's just smoke we're dealing with, and I rather doubt I'll find an inch of ash on my car when I leave work today. But it is still quite poor air quality here in La Jolla, and I anticipate things will be getting worse in the near term; this is really the first day of the Santa Ana, and already two fires are burning in the county. Should various fires start meeting up, as they did with the Ceder fire, things could be unpleasant.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Slate asks why The Office sucks so badly this season. And I agree, this season has been pretty bad so far. Tonight's episode was an improvement, but the office-centered antics left me a bit cold. I was happy to return to Dwight's farm; I can't say I enjoy those scenes, exactly, but I appreciate the mindset from which such scenes emerge. But having Pam and Jim there to so blatantly gawk at the freaks just made things feel tawdry and cruel.

In my opinion, the new season sucks because Michael has been lobotomized the same way Dwight was last season. I'm waiting for the episode where Dwight falls down a well, and Michael waits up for the Great Pumpkin. Really, the whole driving-into-a-lake thing was just too much.

Joey Bishop, dead at 89.
A few comics I enjoyed recently:

Get Fuzzy: perhaps the first time Satchel knew real fear.

Wondermark: Tomorrow's Memes, today. Of course, Bears in Ill-Fitting Hats never go out of style. The Russians knew this:
Okay, so the hat was on the human, I just wanted an excuse to share the video.

And, of course, I have to mention Slylock Fox and Cassandra Cat. I think Cassie looks quite fetching in her housekeeping garb. The Comics Curmudgeon has weighed in on her most recent appearance, as has Reynard Noir. I'll just add that, if it means more Cassandra Cat goodness, I whole-heartedly approve of the approach, evident in this strip, of depicting Cassandra flirting with various police personnel, while the crucial clues that prove her undoing are out-of-frame. It makes things easier on the eyes, and torments innocent children trained by the strip to look for hidden visual clues. A real win-win. Of course, it would be even better if the clue was out of sight because it was stuck to Cassie's ass, which would of course explain the glassy-eyed stares of Slylock and Max (at least Max has the decency to hold his hand to his chin, feigning thoughtfulness and concealing the drool). I'll gladly sit through weeks upon weeks of aliens as long as the strip keeps eventually giving up the goods. And that is all I will say about that, since I seem to have sceeved myself out a bit. But I'm sure that's nothing that can't be cured by watching the Russian magical realism bear video a few hundred times.

UPDATE: I got so flustered by that darn cat, I forgot to mention Gil Thorp: Turns out not only is the team's new quaterback unbearably lame, he also killed a guy. Gotta admit I didn't see that one coming. The story sort of lost steam after the big reveal, but the depiction of a (obviously drug-fueled) wrestling accident was pretty sweet. But please, if you decide to follow Gil Thorp, don't go it alone, go to This Week in Milford. That site somehow got me through the entire "Rock and Roll Carol King"-gets-threatening-or-at-the-least-rather-unpleastantly-negative-letters-from-a-young-Ben-Franklin storyline relatively unscathed, and I'm sure it can help you, too.

Do magicians "own" their tricks? This article reminded me of a spat last year between Ricky Jay and Eric Walton, which raised the question, who owns old magic tricks? Or rather, who gets credit for their rediscovery.

Did I mention how disappointed I was I didn't know about Ricky Jay's L.A. performances until after the fact? I did, of course. But I'll bitch about it again, since it still bums me out to no end. His collection of broadsides is on display in L.A., however, and I still have time to check it out.

Colbert is running for president. I'm a bit uncertain about this. I enjoyed watching him, on the interview circuit promoting his book, goad various interviewers into asking him if he has presidential ambition, only to act agog at the question, like many a candidate before him. But an actual campaign just seems gimmicky. I'm tempted to mention Pat Paulsen as a cautionary example, but it's hard to fault someone for following in the Smothers Brothers' footsteps. So godspeed, Colbert.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

An update regarding my failed water cooler: I gave up on finding a home-filtered solution. There are some coolers available that will filter tap water, but require plumbing, which isn't available where I wanted to keep the cooler. I looked at home delivery, finding Sparkletts to be the best deal, at $30/mo. for 20 gallons/mo., including cooler rental. I was almost willing to pay that much for convenience, but a $20 set-up fee and two-year committment led me to decide to just buy a water cooler from CostCo, and get filtered water from the store by my old high school for thirty cents a gallon. The cooler was a tad expensive, but doing the math, I come out ahead after seven months (maybe eight; the five-gallon jugs were more expensive than I thought), and then I should save some twenty-odd bucks a month going forward. And the water from the store tastes pretty good; definitely better than what the Brita filter produced.

So I'm satisfied with the solution. I miss the convenience of the Brita water cooler, but filling up jugs every two weeks or so isn't so bad, and given that there is an improvement in water quality (it has got that oddly-too-clean, sterile quality to it, but that I don't mind so much), I don't mind a minor inconvenience.

In other water news, I got a notice in the mail that my water district will begin fluoridation next month, after having fought the move for years, going so far as requesting not to receive funding in order to avoid adapting fluoridation. But apparently Helix has given in, and the Communist attack on our precious bodily fluids takes another step forward.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

eMusic has some free tracks available highlighting what's available over at Daytrotter. Checking out the site, I was greeted by the music of Smoosh, whom I mentioned favorably when I saw them open for the Pipettes, and who have several free songs available on Daytrotter. Their stuff on Daytrotter's pretty good, and the site seems to have a lot of music available (I already had some Casey Dienel tracks from the site, somehow, even though I'm pretty sure I've never been to the site before); one would probably be well rewarded for spending some time in their archives.
Larry Craig vows not to resign, even after guilty plea upheld. When the story first broke, he said he was not guilty, not gay, but said he would resign. Now he's a demonstrable liar on one point, but expects us to believe that he is most certainly not a dreadful homosexual. I just don't understand why he would want to put himself through further humiliation. Just leave D.C. and take your pension with you, and put this behind you.

I take no position on sex in public restrooms, but a Senator who thinks he can plead guilty to a sex-related crime and no one will ever hear about it lacks the judgement to be a Senator.

A few years back, I bought a Brita water cooler. It's like one of those coolers you would get from Sparkletts, but instead of having to have bottled water delivered, you just fill up a jug with tap water, and the cooler filters it and keeps it cool. Very handy, and more environmentally friendly than bottled water. Unfortunately, last night it sprung a leak, right after I had filled it up, spilling three gallons of water onto the kitchen floor. Quite a mess. Since I had just filled it, and there was still water in the cooler's reservoir, I just figured I put the bottle back on wrong somehow, so I put some more water in the bottle, and watched it for awhile, but soon I discovered there definitely had a leak in the machine itself. I don't know where the receipt is, but I got it about two years ago, and I think there's about a 50/50 chance the warranty has expired (and without the receipt, I'm hosed either way). No big deal, I thought, since the thing wasn't that expensive ($80 or so, if memory serves), but now I find the product appears to have been discontinued. Maybe they leak too much. But I can't find a suitable replacement for this unit. There are coolers that just take tap water, which I could live with, but without the filtering, why not just drink from the tap? Which I guess is what I'll end up doing, but if anyone knows where I can find a discontinued Brita water cooler, let me know.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Atari 2600 is 30 years old this month. Makes me want to break out one of my classic-gaming anthologies and fire up some old-school Atari, and wonder how I ever found those games fun.

And speaking of Atari anthologies, when are we going to see E.T. in one of those collections? That I would pay for. They could do a super-deluxe version, sort of like the Showgirls DVD. Can video games be so-bad-they're-good?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LOLsecretz combines PostSecret with LOLcatz in a way which seems inevitable, in retrospect. Fun times.

Marcel Marceau, dead at 84.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Onion has shocking news about the new Wes Anderson film. Actually surprisingly, Kumar Pallana isn't in the film, though I don't think he was in The Life Aquatic, either.
New report documents the danger of rising carbon dioxide levels in our oceans. We have a new exhibit on global warming at the aquarium, which I thought was quite well done, and while most of the stuff wasn't news to me, the discussion of the effects of the rising acidicy of the ocean due to increasing carbon dioxide levels was, and was rather disturbing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I started volunteering with my local library this week. My plan had been to start this summer, but because I took my sweet time in applying, and because the background check and health screening took longer than I anticipated, I'm starting only a week before school starts. But that's okay, I intended to keep volunteering during the school year; I find the more things I have going, the more I end up getting done, and I'm more likely to do well in school when I'm kept busy elsewhere as well. Next week, they're going to start my training as an internet docent, but for now, I've just been shelving books. Nice to see that the kids are still checking out the Encyclopedia Brown books. Overall, I find the experience rewarding, though I'm a bit worn out by the end of the shift, from all the bending over to the low shelfs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This Sunday was the 15th Annual Sea Chantey Festival on board the Star of India here in San Diego. Always one of the highlights of the year for me, and for the most part this year was no exception. Oceans Apart was sort of the headliner, the big non-local act, and were rather good. But some of the local acts are my favorites, particularly Ken Graydon and Gilman Carver. Graydon was good, which was a relief, as he seemed to be a bit off last year, and Carver was excellent as always, and I was very happy to see he had a CD for purchase this year, finally. It's just a transfer of the cassette, so the sound quality is what you would expect, but it's nice to have the album in a format I can hear on my iPod.

In case you're wondering whether or not you want to make the 16th Annual Sea Chantey Festival a part of your life, here's a couple poor-quality videos of Gilman Carver, to give you a general idea of just what this event is all about:

And I have some photos up at flickr.

I feel like I should say more about the festival, but I'm very tired, and so I'm going to say that saying something is better than saying nothing, and just leave it at that. Fun times.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I failed to report the death recently of major-league pitcher Bill Henry, which was good, since he turned out to be a fraud. Actually, I only heard about him due to the hoax, and its eerie resemblance to a recent plot from Gil Thorp. Now, the New York Times continues the fraudulent-behavior-belied-by-obituary's-dissemination theme with a discussion of an unscrupulous, or senile, photographer. So remember, friends, if you're living a lie, make your final wishes very clear: No Obituary. Stress your humility, or make up a story about a murder rap in Idaho. More interesting than a padded resume.

Friday, September 14, 2007

SCO Group files for bankruptcy. It only took about two weeks longer than I thought it would.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

My picture made it up on the Comic Curmudgeon today, showing off my new shirt and mug. Same pictures here, but now with the validation only the authority offered by someone else's blog can provide.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The fabulous merchandise I purchased from the Comics Curmudgeon arrived on Thursday. It occurred to me that I didn't have any pictures of Sable, and what better occasion than the arrival of my Cassandra Cat mug to rectify the situation?

Tanner was barking, so Sable wouldn't stick around for long, so these photos were the best I could get. In answer to your questions, yes, my front yard is scattered with Club Anti-Theft devices and bags of charcoal, and no, despite appearances here, I do not weigh 600 pounds.

I signed up to volunteer at the library a while back, and the end result was I spend this morning with a man cupping my genitalia. Apparently, all county library volunteers have to go through the same physical exam required of county employees, so today I had to get a TB test and a physical exam. Pretty routine stuff, though, not having drank much water this morning, and having used the facilities before I left home, I had one hell of a time filling the cup, and it looked like the nurse had to improvise to have enough urine to complete the drug test. I also learned I'm color-blind. Not a huge surprise, I'd suspected as much, but I'd also tended to think the color-blindness test in my high school biology textbook was just full of crap. But being put through a series of the tests, and not seeing a damn thing in about a third of them, I'll have to accept the diagnosis. Guess I'll not be becoming a pilot after all, what with the color-blindness. And the crippling fear of heights. And fear of airplanes. And the fact that I'm a bit of a dullard.

Anyway, hopefully this means I can start volunteering at the library soon. I'd hoped to spend my summer helping out there, but took my time in applying (ill, then decided to wait until after Comic-Con), and didn't realize the background check/physical process takes so long. But now, once I go back Monday for the results of the TB test, hopefully they'll put me to work soon.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, dead at 88. All I can remember about A Wrinkle in Time is that I liked it very much, and that I associate it very strongly, every time I think about it, with eating strips of sharp cheddar and monterey jack cheese while I read the book at my grandmother's kitchen table.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti, dead at 71.
So, today was the big day for us iPod fanboys, as Apple announced their new iPod lines. I refrained from joining in the rumor-mongering, but what I was hoping for was an iPod with at least 120GB of storage, and iPhone-like touch-screen capabilities. And Apple came out with both features, but unfortunately not in the same iPod. For $349, you can buy an "iPod Classic" with 160GB capacity. I figure that's more room than I'll be needing anytime soon, but that's what I thought when I bought the 80GB iPod, and that one's nearly full. In addition to the extra capacity, the iPod Classic features a revised operating system (based on OS X, no doubt), but that doesn't interest me much; I've never found Cover Flow all that exciting, and it is especially irrelevant to how I listen to music on the go.

What I was excited about was getting the non-phone capabilities of the iPhone, and that is now possible. The iPod Touch looks absolutely amazing, but at 16GB of storage in the largest model, it's useless to me. Reading the various live-blogging coverage of the press event, I realized, when the iPod Touch followed iPod Classic, it was going to have less capacity; reports that the iPod Touch would use flash memory instead of a hard drive must be correct, and no way Apple can economically provide 160GB of storage in flash format. So I was starting to think if I could get by with 40 or 60 GB of storage; my music collection, without podcasts and video, is only 57 GB, and to be honest, I only listen to a relatively small portion of that on my iPod, sticking to a few familiar playlists. But I just can't see 16GB working for me at all. Which is a shame, because other than that, the iPod Touch is exactly what I was hoping for (though a radio tuner would have been nice).

I was all prepared to declare my current iPod a useless hunk of junk, and run out to my local merchant and demand two of each model of the new iPods. But now I'm not so sure. I understand where Apple's coming from; they decided to stick to flash memory for the iPod Touch, and large-capacity iPods with flash aren't currently cost-effective, so they're throwing a bone to those of use who demand storage space, and releasing the 160GB iPod Classic, to hold us over until next September, when surely they will have an iPod Touch of that capacity or more to release. And I would certainly not mind having the 160GB iPod. But I don't think I can justify the expense, while my current iPod functions. So here's hoping something terrible happens to my iPod real soon.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Used book store owner burns books in "protest." He apparently had some excess books to dispose of, and couldn't come up with a means of disposal that satisfied him. He received lots of advice on how to dispense the books, he said, but none that didn't involve expense, or that "would have us provide our inventory to organizations that compete directly with used bookstores." In other words, some fools wanted him to donate the books to those dens of iniquity, libraries. How dare a library try to reuse books for the public good; not like this noble man, Tom Wayne, who reuses the intellectual property of others for his personal financial gain. I have nothing against used book stores, but still; what a jackass.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Johnny Cash Show is coming to DVD this month. Looks promising. I went to JohnnyCash.com looking for more info, and that's where I discovered they have a Johnny Cash podcast, to which of course I immediately subscribed and begin downloading the back episodes (about 12, total). Haven't heard it yet, but it will be awesome, no doubt. I can't figure out how to link to it directly on their website, but you can subscribe through iTunes. I'm trying to cut down on my podcast subscriptions, since I never seem to listen to them, but this is one I'll definitely make time for (and shake my head ruefully when I consider how many This American Life episodes I have to get caught up on)

Friday, August 31, 2007

I warned you, Pearls Before Swine. No good could come from antagonizing the "classic" comics. But while I waited for Mary Worth to bring the pain, I was blindsided by the arrival of the Pro-Circus extremists.
NBC soon to be out of iTunes. Seems like a poor move on their part, as purchasing TV shows is pretty much an impulse decision, and putting any roadblocks up should cut revenues severely. I know I've bought several TV shows iTunes; mostly episodes of The Office I missed before I got a DVR (or when my crappy cable-company DVR malfunctioned), as well as a few very-special-episodes of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. But if I can't get it for $2 from iTunes, I'll probably give up (I can get it for the same price on my Xbox 360, but that requires buying points in an oddly-priced bundle, and I can't load them on my iPod, so that probably won't happen). I have noted a fair amount of current TV shows are now available for streaming on Netflix, but I don't think the current season is available, so it doesn't help with playing catch-up. So NBC will now be out $2 when I miss a show I like, and if its a show where continuity is a big issue, I'll probably stop watching the show (missing an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip finally gave me an excuse to bail on that train-wreck). So way to go, NBC, good luck getting people to pay $5 for something they can get for free.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Did you ever see that show on VH-1, that showed clips from YouTube, along with helpful commentary to help you understand why it was funny? ("He got hit in the nuts, that's funny!") Apparently, Viacom never paid anything or got any permision to use those clips, but will threaten you with the Hammer of the Gods if you put a clip of the stolen footage on YouTube. So, when a big corporation does it, it's fair use; when you do it, it's piracy.
As devoted readers of this blog have no doubt picked up on by now, the vast majority of posts in this forum are simply padding, because if every single post I made was about the damned sexiness of that cat in that children's comic strip, they'd lock me up, so I need to talk about non-psychotic things every once in awhile. But of course it's all just a matter of biding time until I can mention Cassandra Cat here again. So imagine the hysterics I found myself in when I visited The Comics Curmudgeon today and learned that they have...are you ready for this?...Cassandra Cat merchandise for sale! Which wouldn't be too surprising, as the site offers a wide array of merchandise, but none of the other merchandise features actual licensed artwork, due to copyright law (apparently, selling something that doesn't belong to you is somehow considered stealing). But apparently, Slylock Fox creator Bob Weber, Jr., has actually designed the logo himself!

Of course, my first reaction, on seeing this, was, "Damn, there is no way I could pull off wearing this in public." So, naturally, I decided to order the thong. But on further reflection, I think the coffee mug is a good bet, well-suited to my spiraling caffeine addiction. I think it says a lot about me, that as much as I enjoyed Aldomania, or Molly the Bear, I never bought any merch, but within moments of learning of the existence of Cassandra Cat merchandise, I've whipped out my credit card and am ready to order! I do think I'll pick up an Aldomania shirt, though, for old times sake (the one-year anniversary of Aldo's death is fast approaching).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

So, I was at Del Taco for lunch on Saturday. The Del Taco by my house has one of those crane games, where you can win a stuffed animal. Lately, I'd noticed the prizes were a bit odd. The standard stuffed animals filled the case, but at the top, the most easily accessible prize for some time was a Dwight David Eisenhower plush doll. Because kids just love Ike. Eventually, someone apparently won that doll. I didn't see that, but on Saturday, as I walked up to the glass door, I saw a kid of about nine or ten playing with a doll of about 18 inches of height, wearing a conservative suit and spotting a beard. The doll was dancing wildly, much to the boy's delight. Turns out, he was the proud winner of a Ulysses S. Grant plush doll. I'd always wondered how people felt, after no doubt dumping dollar bill after dollar bill into the machine, when they win a peculiarly designed plush doll of a relatively dull former president (a General Grant doll I could see, but this was a President Grant doll). Now I know; the reaction is bemused excitement. And it turns out President Grant's secret passion was playing in the ball pits at second-teir fast food restaurants.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

So last summer (or thereabouts; I'm saying it was last summer for our purposes here), I read and enjoyed very much The Trouble With Tom, which follows the travels of Thomas Paine's body over the century or so following his demise. So I felt it only fitting, this summer, that I should read Stealing Lincoln's Body by Thomas J. Craughwell, which gives a similar treatment to the remains of the Great Emancipator. In particular, as the title suggests, the book recounts a little-known plot to steal the remains of Lincoln, and hold them for ransom, demanding $200,000 and the release of a convicted counterfeiter. Unforunately, this book is not nearly as engaging as Paul Collin's treatment of Paine, mostly because the story of the conspiracy to steal Lincoln is pretty simple and dull. The crooks were fairly inept, their capture relatively routine, and the story most notable for the paranoia it led to in keeping the bodies (Abraham and Mary Todd) safe from further attempts (Lincoln's corpse was moved repeatedly, his casket opened twice for identification purposes, before ultimately being entombed in concrete). The book uses this basic story as a framework for various digressions, some interesting (Lincoln's funeral, Mary Todd's battle with the Lincoln Monument association, the creation of a secret society to conceal the remains of Lincoln), but most not too terribly gripping. Overall, it's a quick read, well-written, if a bit too strident in telling the life story of every bit player in the scandal, and is worth a look for those interested in Lincoln, or the abduction of corpses for ransom.

It's also worth a look for people like me, who intend to make reading about the corpses of famous Americans an annual tradition. So here's hoping someone writes a book along those lines for next summer, or else I'll have to attempt to defile the corpse of Millard Fillmore (I intend to say that Mallard Fillmore gave me the idea) to give the nation's quirky historians fodder for a new book. Or maybe read a book about who's buried in Grant's tomb. Grant's tomb...hey, that's a nice segue into my visit to Del Taco yesterday. Stay tuned for Del Taco/Ulysses S. Grant confluence madness, coming soon!

Friday, August 24, 2007

As an addendum to my previous post, I should share with you that I placed third in a blackjack tournament this evening at ClubUBT, winning another $75, thus doubling my winnings. So, I've been a member for about a month and almost paid for a full year's membership. Not too shabby.

Which probably raises a question amongst some of my readership: If you're doing so well, does that mean the average member of ClubUBT is a complete moron? Possibly. But I should note, the bulk of my winnings come from poker, at which I have about a decade of experience playing in casinos, so it's not too surprising that I've done well there, and doesn't necessarily reflect on the skill of the ClubUBT players as a whole. On the blackjack side, where I have very little tournament experience, I've done less well (as I'm not skilled at BJ tournaments, I will withhold judgement on the ability of the site's typical blackjack players) But as for what my personal opinion of the site's poker players is, based on what I've seen, I'd say that the players of ClubUBT are decent, but somewhat inexperienced. And don't seem to take into consideration the one-sided payouts of the tournaments, which are generally winner-take-all or something rather similar (I'm sidestepping the issue of points, which you can win in tournaments and allow you to enter other tournaments; in short, I'll just say that I believe some players play conservatively to guarantee themselves of at least winning some points, which seems to me a huge mistake). Furthermore, I don't see too much creative playing, and creative play implemented in exactly the wrong time. And I see a lot of players bust out of the tournament, despite having substantial chips, with low pocket pairs they probably should've folded pre-flop, but kept even after the flop hit with the paint. In the interest of keeping my personal observations my personal advantage at the tables, I won't talk about other specific plays that make me think the players are somewhat mediocre, but I think the way a community of players play low pocket pairs says a lot for their amount of experience.

So on the poker side, I say the players are not bad, but somewhat below the typical caliber seen in card rooms playing for substantial real money. That said, don't expect to see the sort of players you see playing in free games at places like Yahoo! With prizes on the line, people play accordingly. But if you're a solid player looking for entertainment with a possibility of winning money, this is a good spot to look.

Now, my strategy is to be more selective in tournament selection, look for the bigger prize money like the blackjack tournament I just won, and tournaments with merchandise prizes I want (the Blu-Ray DVD player is being given away Tuesday). Now if you'll excuse me, I have a poker tournament to play.

The New York Times has an article on the trade dispute between Antigua and the United States over online gambling. It's remarkable how the United States turned victory into defeat in this case; all they had to do to be in compliance with the W.T.O. order was outlaw domestic online gambling, which means placing horseracing bets online (to the best of my knowledge, this is the only online gambling legal in the U.S., though there could be some state lottery with an online component I'm unfamiliar with). Instead, the Bush administration and congress decided to act like children, pass further restrictions on online gambling while specifically excluding the horseracing industry from such legislation, choosing to ignore the W.T.O. (which, when China does it, is considered by the U.S. as an affront to Western Civilization). As Mark Mendel, Antigua's man in Geneva, notes, "This isn’t a case of forcing gambling on a population that has decided they don’t like it. This is the world’s biggest consumer and exporter of gambling services trying to prohibit a small country from developing its economy by offering these same services. And we find that deeply hypocritical.”

This seems like as good a time as any to discuss a new service the U.S.' draconian online gambling laws has forced me to resort to, Club UBT. Club UBT is a legal service which offers poker and blackjack tournaments. They are legal because the tournaments themselves are free, once you pay a membership fee, which starts at about $20/month (if you prepay quarterly or annually, you save a bit). They have a fair amount of tournaments throughout the day for small stakes ($10 winner-takes-all tourneys are commonplace), a few a day with larger payouts ($100-$200 total paid to the top four places), and about one a day with a "fabulous" prize (jewelry, electronics, etc.). They also have occasional satellites to win entry into larger tournaments, for instance, a $10,000 prize pool tournament in poker, or on the blackjack side you can win entry into a major, televised blackjack tournament at Barona casino (airfare is included, which does me no good, living thirty minutes from Barona--but I have won entry into the tournament to win entry into that tournament).

I've been a member about a month and a half, and at the conclusion of my two-week free trial membership, I purchased a quarterly membership for around $50. I do recommend Club UBT for those jonesing for an online gambling fix, and who aren't willing to play the game of pre-paid debit cards and cloak-and-daggar maneuvers to cash out from grey-market online casinos. But I recommend the service with some reservation. The prizes are fairly meager, though they seem to be adding more cash tournaments (though mostly in the $10-$20 prize pool range). And the merchandise prizes are mostly things I would never purchase for myself, and are of course appraised at full retail price. So, should you win a tournament and receive a $5,000 watch, your $5,000 win will be reported to the IRS, while you'll be lucky to sell it for half that (though if you're the type who wears $5,000 watches, it does look like a nice watch). And on the low end, the prizes look like things that would turn up in Big Lots and other stores at vastly reduced prices (I've seen the iHome iPod stereo for less than half what they claim it's worth). In fact, on their list of current prizes, only the Blu-Ray DVD player really interests me. But that's okay, as I've found enough cash tournaments to keep me entertained. And so far, I've won a total of $75, which was paid to me via check quite swiftly. Of course, for the amount of time I've put in playing tournaments, a profit of less than $25 is rather pathetic, but the point of this site, at least as things stand now, isn't to get rich, but to have fun playing poker and blackjack, and possibly turn a small profit or win a few trinkets. And hopefully, as they gain more subscribers, they will be able to offer more prizes.

One other thing I should note, as it was instrumental in my decision to become a paid member, is that a subscription to Club UBT includes a subscription to All-In magazine (I would not pay for this publication, but for free, it's a decent perk) and, more importantly, a membership with Las Vegas Advisor. I've had a membership with them off and on for several years; I didn't renew recently because I haven't made it to Vegas much. But including the membership (a $50/year value) with Club UBT makes it a great deal. The Advisor's newsletter is worth a read, and last I checked, the message boards were one of the few Vegas internet forums not overrun by trolls. But the main perk of a Las Vegas Advisor membership is their coupon book. For me, the value is moderate; I mostly just use the matchplay coupons, as most of my food in Vegas is comped anyway, and I generally travel solo. But in addition to gambling coupons (matchplays, free slot play, etc), there are great dining, lodging, and entertainment deals here. 50% off up to $50 on pretty much anything at the Palms, lots of great 2-for-1 buffets and shows, some nice room deals. The point is, the inclusion of the Las Vegas Advisor basically knocks about a quarter off the cost of Club UBT, if you assume you'd have joined LVA on your own for $50.

But even on its own, Club UBT is a decent deal. The most you can lose is your membership fee, you potentially can win a tidy profit (everything I win in the next two months or so is pure profit for me), the software, while not as good as the top tier online casinos, is perfectly acceptable, and it certainly satisfies my craving for gambling between trips to the Indian casinos. If you're a gambler, I'd recommend at least giving the two-week free trial a go (as I didn't cancel, I can't speak to the ease of cancellation, or lack thereof). And if you see Flealick raising, I'd get out of the way.

UPDATE: Since I was tooting my horn about my big $75 in winnings since I joined the site, I should mention that, less than 12 hours after writing this post, I had doubled my winnings to date up to $150, with a $75 third place in a blackjack tournament. So if it sounds like I'm bitching above about the prizes being meager, I'll concede that they do have some tournaments with decent prizes, given the membership fee.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On this day in 1960, Belka and Strelka (meaning "Whitey" and "Little Arrow," respectively), along with 40 mice, 2 rats, and numerous plants, became the first living organisms to leave the planet Earth and subsequently return safely from space.
In my last post, I mentioned sex in the back of a crowded theater, which reminded me of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, which I finally got around to watching this week, and which features an opening number reminding us that indecent exposure is a class two felony. So I thought I would take this opportunity to say that the Aqua Teen movie was a huge mess, boring for the most part, but probably worth watching just for the musical number which bookends the film. But that's on YouTube, so maybe you could just skip the film (actually, there are funny moments throughout, but overall, it was pretty disappointing). Anyways, here's that opening:
I'd meant to mention the tragic passing of the famed publication Weekly World News, which I'd been known to impulse-buy on occasion, but never got around to it. But seeing as the late, great publication got a nod in the current, great Reynard Noir, I'll note the sad news now. I was at the grocery store this week, and the tabloids had some sort of Nicole Richie miscarriage drama on the cover (no sooner has the pregnancy is confirmed, than they turn to spreading rumors as to the end of the pregnancy), and I thought about how much I missed Bat Boy or the face of Satan appearing in emerging smoke somewhere.

Oh, and the strip that inspired today's Reynard Noir is notable in that it features a sexy human being. Sort of undermines the idea that the strip is a recruitment tool for furry fetishists, but looking at sexy reporter's vacant eyes, it's clear that all she offers is a life of soul-sucking conformity, picking out your china patterns at the Crate and Barrel, or whatever it is that squares do; it's Cassandra Cat who offers the thrills in life, whether it's the intrigue of an international jewel-heist conspiracy, some quick carnal pleasure in the back row of a crowded movie theater, or the simple pleasure of coming home from a long trip to be surprised by a nude woman in one's bath (which, of course, is just another example of the wonderful fantasy world that is the daily comic strip--in real life, coming home to a wet kitty in the bath, while hilarious, isn't particularly sexy). Cassandra's not even above donning a frumpy wig, going down to the mall, and goofing on the squares. I think the choice between fuzzy criminal mastermind and bipedal dimwit reporter is clear.

Today's quiz question: If I were to share today's post with a qualified psychologist, would it be grounds to have me involuntarily committed? Answer: If not, it should be.

UPDATE: Here's the Comic Curmudgeon's take on today's Slylock Fox. I share it for completeness' sake, and to share his implicit observation that Slylock Fox (god, it's hard not to type that as "Shylock Fox," which, incidentally, is also a strip I would love to read), in a nod to its young readership, must conceal "sexy" behind the euphemism "french."

Pearls Before Swine takes on the all-powerful soap opera comic industry. I hope Stephan Pastis knows what all-powerful juggernaut he's just angered; surely we all remember what Mary Worth did to Aldo Kelrast last year, and he liked Mary Worth.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I've been remiss in discussing my summer reading on this blog, but I just finished a rather unusual book that definitely warrants a mention: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. I encountered a fleeting reference to the studies in an interview recently, and immediately sought out this book, from 2004, which documents these macabre dollhouses and Frances Glessner Lee, who created them.

Basically, the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are a series of dioramas, meticulously created dollhouses which capture the initial state of repose of various people, whom have dropped dead under mysterious circumstances. All are based on reality to some degree, with most being a composite of several police investigations. Lee created these studies as an educational tool, to train first responders on how to observe, preserve and evaluate a crime scene; the goal of the studies is not necessarily to solve the crime, but to determine what evidence at the scene is pertinent, and what further tests should be performed by the medical examiner. Lee was an early proponent of what was then called legal medicine, and advocated for the creation of medical examiners offices (at the time, many coroners, appointed by patronage, had no medical training).

The book opens with an interesting essay about Lee and the studies, and about the gender and class politics under which Lee lived. But the bulk of the book is dedicated to depicting the studies, through descriptions, line drawing, and lots of pictures. Rather than being strictly representational, the photos take a more expressionistic approach, capturing the tension between the innocence of the form and the violence of the content, and the hope depicted externally in many of the studies through windows and paintings depicting more idyllic environs, a hope the victim, dead in their often squalid homes, failed to reach. And while there are disturbing photos of dolls having reached their grisly ends, most of the photos focus on the incidental details of their homes, the banal belongings that define a time and place, and ultimately, a life. Corrine May Botz, the author and photographer responsible for this volume, quotes Paul Auster regarding the objects of a dead man: "They are there and yet not there: tangible ghosts, condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to. What is one to think, for example, of a closetful of clothes waiting silently to be worn again by a man who will not be coming back to open the door?" The preserved remnants of a life snuffed out are often more unsettling than the (admittedly creepy) dead dolls.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death would appeal to those whose interests run towards the macabre or the morbid, but it is not limited in its appeal to that audience. While the studies are not strictly speaking mysteries to be wrapped up neatly (though there is a general solution to the studies, since they are still used as a training tool, the solution to all but a handful of the studies is not provided--in general, the solutions are not too terribly hard to fathom, though the kitchen vignette really confounds me), fans of detective fiction and true crime should appreciate this book. And the story of Frances Glessner Lee, a woman whose ambitions were suppressed by the expectations for her gender and the heavy burden her wealthy family imposed upon her, offers interesting insights into the options available to upper-class women in the early twentieth century.

The book's Amazon page has some photos, and you can also see some photos and learn more from articles from American Medical News and 2wice (the former, written well before the publication of the book, has original photos, and more importantly, solutions not offered in the book).